The use of laser cutting in Utah is growing day by day; it is used to cut materials in manufacturing and fabrication. The technology uses computer-controlled high-power light beams to burn through materials. While many people in Utah see laser cutting as an emerging technology, the truth is that it has been around for long.
In fact, laser cutting can be traced back to Albert Einstein. The German-born mathematician-cum-physicists came up with the concepts of stimulated emission and harnessing light energy; laser cutting is built upon the two principles. Below is how laser cutting technology has evolved over the past century.
Photoelectric effect and stimulated emission theories
In 1900, Max Planck, another German physicist, published a paper detailing the relationship between radiation frequency and the energy carried by the radiation. The ideas raised in Planck’s paper inspired Einstein to explore the subject. In 1917, Einstein published a paper that introduced the concept of stimulated emissions.
The paper suggested that atoms could release or absorb energy in the form of photons when moving from one energy state to another. Also, the paper predicted that light could stimulate the emission of more light as it penetrates through matter. Roughly 20 years before the publishing of Einstein’s paper, Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, yet another German physicist, had discovered the photoelectric effect.
Hertz observed that when metal electrodes were exposed to Ultraviolet (UV) light, the voltage across the electrodes changed. It was later explained that the observation was due to the emission of electrons from the surface of the metal electrodes caused by the UV light. In 1905, Einstein used Planck’s quantum theorem to explain the photoelectric effect. Different scientists spent the rest of the 20th century trying to put the photoelectric effect and stimulated emission ideas into practical use.
Development in the 1950s
After Einstein’s 1917 paper, it was not until the 1950s that significant breakthroughs in laser technology were realized. In 1939, Valentin Fabrikant published a theory that detailed how stimulated radiation could be used to amplify radiation. In 1950, Charles Townes, Nikolay Basov, and Alexander Prokhorov, the trio that later won a Nobel Prize in Physics, demonstrated how stimulated emission could be applied in microwaves. In 1959, Gordon Gould theorized the application of stimulated emission to amplify light.
Practical application in the 1960s
The first production laser was designed and used in 1965 by the Western Engineering Company. The company used the technology to drill holes into diamond pieces. In the same year, Peter Houldcroft, a German scientist and Deputy Scientific Director at The Welding Institute (TWI) in Cambridge discovered that focused laser beams, when used together with oxygen assist-gas, could increase the precision in thermal cutting.
In 1967, Houldcroft designed a laser cutting nozzle that used a carbon dioxide laser beam and oxygen assist-gas. He used the nozzle to cut through a steel sheet. In 1969, Boeing published a paper predicting that, with significant improvements, laser technology could be used to cut through hard materials such as titanium and ceramics.
Improvement: 1969 to date
From 1968 to today, laser technology has undergone many enhancements to increase its efficiency, speed, and precision. Notably, it was given a boost by the development of computer programming. Today, most laser cutting machines are controlled by computers.